Relishes and chutneys are mostly associated with an abundant harvest that inevitably occurs in the late autumn when all the summer vegetables are coming to an end of their season. Always a busy time in our kitchen as baskets of surplus produce that we cannot possibly consume are converted into delicious chutneys and relishes to be savoured during the coming winter months. I love preserving the harvest and find a fundamental satisfaction at looking at the shelving in my kitchen that are full of preserves to be savoured over the coming months and even years. For me personally, preserving is the icing on the cake of a culinary life.
Sometimes though, due to the vicious vagaries of our climate, there occurs a late winter abundance of vegetables from up north in sunny Queensland. This late winter, the record breaking heat up that part of the world resulted in vegetables ripening ever so early and all at once at that. Abundance in this regard results in unusually low prices for produce.
Time to get out the preserving pan ever so early this year as I sent my husband down to the supermarket to secure a few kilograms of beautifully heavy red capsicums and red onions. Caramelised onion and red capsicum relish was the order of the day this past week. I have been writing down and tinkering with my preserving recipes since last summer and am slowly amassing a lovely collection of chutney and relish recipes to hand down into the family and perhaps even to publish. I have such a stock of recipes both modern and ancestral, they simply have to be passed on to appreciative cooks.
I usually make roasted red capsicums and preserve these in my Vacola bottling outfit. Capsicums prepared like this are an excellent addition to winter salads and home made pizza and focaccia breads. However, I already have sufficient preserved roasted red capsicums to last and I have noticed that my stock of relish has diminished markedly this winter due to the fact that I usually spread a generous layer of relish into savoury roll up scones. Caramelised red onion and roasted red capsicum relish is the order of the day.
The onions are caramelised at their own leisure, thank you very much. Certain time honoured recipes do take time and care to prepare. One can never hurry along the preserving pan process. Caramelised onions must be prepared slowly to ensure that the sugars slowly develop to intensify the flavour. I always purchase good quality plain and wine vinegars and keep a stock of these in my pantry. I find vinegars improve with keeping.
The relish slowly changes to a dull colour with slow simmering. Always cook the contents without a lid to ensure slow and even evaporation and watch out towards the end of cooking time as the pan contents start to stick and can easily burn.
The relish is ready when it turns a rich brown colour and most of the excess fluid has evaporated, leaving behind a combination of sweet and sour, coupled with garlic and herbs for added flavour.
I have taken to preserving the relish one step further this year into the Fowlers Vacola home bottling outfit. “Vacola” has been the preserving mainstay of many a housewife since 1915 when the company started up in Australia by a canny Scotsman. The real benefit of bottling in the Vacola is that my relishes can last for a few years in an unopened state.
This home made beef in red wine sauce pie was embellished with a serve of relish. The combination of sweet and savoury flavours was a marriage made in heaven. Mind you, I always think that any good home cooking and baking is a marriage made in heaven – a marriage between good ingredients and the pleasure that one experiences in producing sustaining and nourishing foods for the winter table. You cannot beat home made.